Sophomore midfielder Ellen Jantsch poked home a cross from classmate Melissa Henderson in the 37th minute, lifting #3 Notre Dame to a 1-0 exhibition win over the Ireland National Team on Tuesday night at Kuntz Stadium in Indianapolis.

#3 Irish Blank Ireland National Team, 1-0, In Exhibition Opener

Aug. 11, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS – Sophomore midfielder Ellen Jantsch (Kansas City, Mo./St. Teresa’s Academy) scored in the 37th minute and the Notre Dame defense did the rest, as the third-ranked Fighting Irish women’s soccer team opened its 2009 season with a 1-0 exhibition victory over the Ireland National Team on Tuesday night before a crowd of approximately 2,000 fans at Kuntz Stadium in Indianapolis.

The win was especially notable, considering the Ireland side had gone unbeaten in four previous matches during its 10-week training camp in the United States. Among those Ireland victories were a 1-0 conquest of the Chicago Red Stars (who play in Women’s Professional Soccer), a 2-1 triumph over FC Indiana (a powerhouse in the United Soccer League’s W-League) and a 6-0 whitewash of Notre Dame’s fellow BIG EAST member, Louisville, just three nights earlier. Ireland, which is 27th in the latest FIFA women’s world rankings (its highest-ever ranking), is preparing to open qualifying play for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup next month.

“This was a positive first step for us this preseason, coming out only five days into camp and having a lot of people playing new positions,” 11th-year Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum said. “Ireland is a very organized and disciplined team and it really tested our focus and resiliency for 90 minutes. We saw some things that we’re obviously going to need to improve upon, but for our first time out, I was pleased with the effort and the result.”

Notre Dame improves to 9-2-1 in exhibition matches under Waldrum, although this was the first time the Fighting Irish had faced an international opponent in the preseason. Notre Dame has played the Mexican National Team on several occasions during its spring season, most recently in 2008 when it defeated Mexico, 2-1, at Alumni Field.

Playing its first match of the season less than one week after opening training camp, the Fighting Irish pressured Ireland right from the kickoff. Less than three minutes into the contest, sophomore forward Melissa Henderson (Garland, Texas/Berkner) tracked down a ball in the right corner, turned on a dime at the end line and served a cross into the area, where junior defender/midfielder Lauren Fowlkes nodded the ball just wide of the right post. It wouldn’t be the last time the two preseason Hermann Trophy candidates/all-BIG EAST selections would threaten the Ireland goal.

Henderson latched on to another deep ball at the 34:12 mark, this time on the left side, but her shot from the top corner of the 18′ hooked wide of the mark. Just after the mid-half water break, Henderson got loose once again, running on to a service from sophomore forward/midfielder Courtney Barg (Plano, Texas/Plano West) and pulling the Irish `keeper Emma Byrne out of position before sending a left-footed shot back into the gaping goalmouth. However, the Ireland backline recovered as Niamh Fahey swept the ball off the goal line to keep the scoreboard clean for the moment.

After three near misses, Henderson finally unlocked the combination to the Ireland goal, pounding down the left side before sending a low cross into the six-yard box. Jantsch charged in on an angled run, beating her defender and Byrne to the ball, redirecting it into the lower left corner of the goal at 36:25.

Each side had one more solid scoring chance in the first half, but Fowlkes’ header off a corner kick from junior midfielder Rose Augustin (Silver Lake, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) sailed wide left with 3:35 to go before halftime. Ireland’s best opportunity of the opening half came in stoppage time, when Aine O’Gorman just barely got behind the Notre Dame defense at the top of the penalty area, but her hurried shot whistled high and wide.

The Fighting Irish came out of the locker room aiming for the all-important insurance goal and nearly got it five minutes into the second half. Off a corner kick and ensuing scramble in the box, senior defender Haley Ford (Midland, Texas/Midland) fired a dart from close range that just missed the right post.

Senior midfielder Micaela Alvarez (Cranbury, N.J./The Peddie School) made the most of her second-half playing time, driving down the left channel for a 20-yard look on goal, but her shot sailed off-target (36:30). Less than three minutes later, Alvarez got behind the Ireland defense and was headed for a 1-v-1 chance on Byrne, but was roughly dispossessed from behind in the area.

Just before the second half water break, Barg put on an impressive individual dribbling display on the right edge of the 18′, picking the pocket of an Ireland defender, then weaving through three other opposing sentries before Byrne saved the day by smothering the ball in the six-yard box before Barg could get a shot off.

Augustin then had a hand in three solid scoring chances for Notre Dame during a nine-minute stretch. First, she found herself alone on the left side of the box, behind the defense and with Byrne out of position, but her sharp-angled shot skipped wide of the left post into the side netting (23:20).

Next, Augustin picked up a loose ball in the left channel and chipped a tantalizing cross with the outside of her right boot, with the ball swerving over the Ireland defense across the face of the goal. Junior midfielder Taylor Knaack (Arlington, Texas/Martin) ran on to the cross, but her shot twisted high and wide right (14:10).

Less than 30 seconds later, Barg sent a cross from the right side through the box that Henderson dummied brilliantly, taking two Ireland defenders and Byrne with her. It left Augustin with a yawning empty goal to fire upon, but her howitzer from the penalty spot clipped the underside of the crossbar and came down on the goal line where it was swept away by the Ireland defense.

Ireland made several forays into the Notre Dame third during the closing minutes, but never got a clean shot on goal. As was the case in the first half, Ireland’s best chance came in stoppage time, when Michele O’Brien (a member of the Chicago Red Stars’ organization) cracked a daisy-cutter from the top of the box that was scooped up by Notre Dame senior goalkeeper Kelsey Lysander (San Diego, Calif./Rancho Bernardo) just before the final whistle sounded.

The three Fighting Irish goalkeepers each worked 30-minute segments in Tuesday’s match. Junior Nikki Weiss (Redding, Conn./Immaculate) started the contest, before giving way to freshman Maddie Fox (San Jose, Calif./Leigh), who was credited with the victory. Lysander then came on in the second half to preserve the shutout.

“I really liked what I saw from all three of our goalkeepers out there tonight,” Waldrum said. “We also got some solid play from our backline, especially Haley (Ford) and (sophomore) Jessica (Schuveiller) in the center. (Sophomore) Molly (Campbell) continues to develop nicely in her new role at outside back, and I thought (freshman) Jazmin (Hall) gave us some good minutes as well.

“Consistency is always important when you’re trying new lineup combinations,” he added. “Our veterans set the tone with good consistent play, particularly Courtney (Barg), Rose (Augustin) and Melissa (Henderson).”

Prior to the match, Waldrum also announced that senior midfielder/forward Courtney Rosen (Brecksville, Ohio/Hathaway Brown), senior forward Michele Weissenhofer (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) and sophomore defender Jessica Schuveiller (Plano, Texas/Plano West) were voted by their teammates to serve as captains this season.

Notre Dame will play its second and final exhibition match at 1 p.m. (ET) Friday when it squares off with ninth-ranked Virginia at the Keystone Soccer Complex in Traverse City, Mich. The Fighting Irish will open the 2009 regular season Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. (ET) against Wisconsin at Alumni Field (the former home of Notre Dame soccer, which will host the team’s first two regular-season matches while construction is completed on the new Alumni Stadium).

— ND —